Although modern, clean and comfortable, the atmosphere at Seoul in Sparta—which opened earlier this year—is as nondescript as they come. It’s almost as though they want all the focus to be on the food, but a few pictures on the dark shiplap walls would go a long way in making patrons feel more at home.
The service is equally bland, but not unfriendly, and like the décor, the menu is rather limited. Nevertheless, each dish packs a lot of flavor into the classic Korean cuisine, and most items can be ordered in a lunch or dinner size, allowing for friendly, shareable selections.
The dinner portion of the mahn doo pork dumplings features five large and plumply-stuffed dough packages that are both sweetly caramelized, but soft and juicy, and served with a salty, soy-vinegar dipping sauce. The same sauce is the focal point of the heh mool pah jun vegetable and shrimp pancake, served sizzling hot and crispy in its own frying pan. A similar version is also available without the seafood.
Bol gohgee is probably the most well-known and loved Korean main dish, and this tender mix of thinly-sliced rib eye, tossed with syrupy soy, garlic, ginger and sesame seeds is simply served with a pungent pickled vegetable slaw for a wonderful combination of salt, savory and sweetness. The jeh yook goo ee introduces a good bit of red chili spice to the platter of thinly-sliced pork shoulder ribs that can be picked up for a finger-licking experience. Both dishes can also be turned into combo platters with the addition of shrimp or salmon for a minimal upcharge.
Vegetarians will love the bee beam bahp rice bowl, but it can also be ordered with the beef or pork on top for what we thought was the best dish of the visit. The oversized bowl of rice was packed with a rainbow of colorful, saucy, shredded vegetables and a fried egg, which we wished we had ordered underdone so that the yolk would have mingled with all the delicious earthy and meaty flavors.
There are also ramen bowls available with vegetables or seafood, and fried rice that is soft and sticky enough to be presented attractively in a molded bowl shape, yet it is not the least bit mushy.
Seoul may be lacking in personality on the outside, but the tasty and often zesty flavors coming out of its kitchen make it well worth a visit.
Seoul, 37 Woodport Road, Sparta, 973-512-3130. Open for lunch and dinner, Tuesday-Sunday. BYO